Haneen Zoabi, the outspoken and incendiary Israeli-Arab parliamentarian, has not hesitated to inflame the Palestinian public, not least by joining the chorus of Palestinian leaders falsely claiming that Israel intends to do harm to the al Aqsa Mosque. The idea that Israel has designs on the mosque, a sacred Muslim shrine that rests atop the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, has been at the center of anti-Jewish violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.
“There is no way to prevent them from taking al-Aqsa other than to struggle,” Zoabi exclaimed only weeks before escalation of violence that has led to the current wave of stabbing attacks targeting Israelis. (Zoabi couples her calls to action with demands for religious exclusion and historical revisionism: The Temple Mount is “for Muslims only,” she recently said, adding that there is no proof Jewish temples ever existed on the Mount.)
Since her call for “struggle” to defend the mosque from the Jews, the radical Knesset member has been more explicit in urging violence, telling a Hamas newspaper that the lone-wolf stabbing should be expanded into a full-fledged “intifada.”
It was bewildering, then, to see the New York Times suggest that Zoabi and her colleagues have expressed opposition to the attacks. “Arab members of the Knesset … say they oppose violence by Israel’s Arab citizens,” reporter Isabel Kershner claimed. The sweeping statement might be true of some Arab members of Knesset, or even most. But it is not true of Zoabi.
In a statement to Hamas’s Al Resala newspaper, Zoabi warned that “individual actions,” a reference to stabbing attacks by Palestinians, would “dwindle” unless they the Palestinian masses also mobilize against Israel:
Zoabi clarified that what is going on now is individual actions and that what our people need is a popular mobilization. She stressed that the popular struggle is the only one that can mobilize the people and help the people. And that the popular mobilization is the one that can paralyze the normal situation [in Israel]. She warned that in case the individual mobilization continues as is without a popular mobilization, the outbursts will dwindle down within a few days. She pointed out that the coming out of thousands of the people will turn the incidents into a real popular intifada and will be a strategic turning point regarding the Palestinian cause.
There isn’t a person in Israel or the West Bank who doesn’t understand what “intifada” means in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The violent unrest that Palestinians referred to as the first intifada involved thousands of Molotov Cocktails and stoning attacks, as well as shootings and rioting that resulted in widespread death and destruction. The second intifada’s trademark was the Palestinian suicide bombings that tore apart Israeli buses, cafes, and crowded markets. So Zoabi’s exhortation to begin a new intifada is not a statement “opposing” violence. It is a call to violence.
It is inexcusable, then, that The Times, which should be prominently reporting on Zoabi’s call to violence and highlighting it as an example of incitement that encourages Palestinian hatred and stabbings, instead fails to report on it – and gives the impression that Arab Knesset members are all behaving responsibly.
What if the situation were reversed? What if an outspoken Jewish parliamentarian made irresponsible comments? We know for a fact the newspaper would treat the matter differently. When Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister and head of the Likud party, was opposed to changing the status quo on the Temple Mount but one Likud Knesset member said otherwise, the newspaper didn’t describe “Likud lawmakers,” spoken about as a whole, as opposing a change to the status quo. On the contrary, it devoted an entire article to the outspoken lawmaker and her comments. And reporters turned to pundits who claimed that the inflammatory remarks actually represent the government as a whole. (See Jodi Rudoren’s Oct. 28 story about a controversial statement by the Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely.)
The double standard is glaring. Zoabi’s comments — her call for an intifada, her warning that the eruption will dwindle if the “individual mobilization” isn’t expanded into a “popular mobilization” — are shunted aside and Arab lawmakers are cast as universally opposing the violence. At the same time, Hotovely’s inflammatory statement is put on prominent display in the newspaper for detailed scrutiny, complete with requisite doubts raised about Israeli intentions.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new. The New York Times has a long history of ignoring or downplaying Palestinian incitement to violence. Journalists routinely treats the issue as nothing more than a cynical Israeli accusation and, indeed, yet another reason to suspect Israeli bad faith. (In the words of the New York Times, Israeli pronouncements about Palestinian incitement “are often used to score propaganda points,” and Israelis who raise concerns don’t expose but rather “exploit” the Palestinian rhetoric. One rarely finds descriptions of Palestinians trying to “score propaganda points” in the pages of the newspaper.)
American calls for an end to Palestinian incitement, meanwhile, are often overlooked, and have even been suppressed. Last year, a reporter quoted Secretary of State John Kerry slamming Palestinian leaders, saying that a brutal massacre of Jews in a synagogue was “a pure result of incitement.” But the quote, along with any reference to Kerry’s impassioned speech, was cut from the story. So too was a quote by Netanyahu blaming the attack on Palestinian incitement.
These are the lengths to which the newspaper goes to downplay Israeli concerns while promoting the Palestinian narrative. It is no wonder, then, that Zoabi’s call to violence was transmogrified into opposition to violence. And it is no wonder that more and more people have come to see the newspaper’s coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict as being less about news gathering and more about advocacy.